The wax death mask of Mary, Queen of Scots, has begun a free exhibition in the UK. The mask is owned by a family now distantly related to her.
Mary I of Scotland was executed in 1587 at age 44 by her cousin and sister queen Elizabeth of England for political reasons: fear of Catholic agitation and uprising. Although it does seem that Mary plotted against Elizabeth's life and rule, England's Queen resisted signing the execution order until it became--in her view at the time--necessary. She delayed the order for 19 years, during which Mary dwelt in prison. Mary considered herself a Catholic martyr, and so she was honored after her death.
Robert Wynkfielde wrote what is now the most cited account of Mary's execution. He relates that she comforted her ladies in waiting, joked about the novelty of being undressed in public (down to her petticoats), and prayed to God. The description reads, in part:
"Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen. Then, her dress of lawn falling from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.
Then Mr Dean [Dr Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough] said with a loud voice, 'So perish all the Queen's enemies,' and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, 'Such end of all the Queen's and the Gospel's enemies.'
Then one of the executioners, pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or washed clean, and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the hall, except the sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her."